It has always seemed strange to me…the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism, and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while we admire the quality of the first, we love the produce of the second. John Steinbeck
For greed all nature is too little. Lucius Seneca
“In 1940, Hermann Göring, known for his ostentatious wealth, greed and pretentiousness, ordered the Nazis to seize Jewish art collections (including the collections of very wealthy, notable families such as Rothschilds, the Rosenbergs and the Goudstikkers) and collect it at the Musée Jeu de Paume in Paris before sending it to Germany. This operation was organized by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (or ERR, the Reischsleiter Rosenberg Institute for Occupied Territories, led by Alfred Rosenberg), which dealt with the patrimony of countries under German control. Göring placed Bruno Lohse in charge of Musée Jeu de Paume, its curators and staff. He supervised the shipping of artifacts to secret places in Belgium and Germany. Between 1940 and 1942, Göring traveled to Paris numerous times to oversee the shipment of art and artifacts. These looting operations, which by 1945 included hundreds of thousands of works of art, spread to other countries around the world, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia and North Africa.
The allies took note of the plunder of European art by Nazi Germany and established their own agency, the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) organization, to protect artwork from destruction by bombing and retrieve the stolen art objects. A recent movie called The Monuments Men (February, 2014), directed by George Clooney, with an all-star cast which includes Clooney himself, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Cate Blanchett, follows the efforts of several art connoisseurs—museum directors, curators, art historians and architects—to enter European combat zones during WWII and reclaim the artworks and private collections stolen by the Nazis. This entertaining and informative film is, in turn, based on Robert M. Edsel’s best-seller, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History (Center Street, New York, 2010).
Although The Monuments Men received mixed critical reviews, I think this movie deserves a lot of credit for reminding us of Churchill’s wise words about the value of art: if we don’t save art and culture, perhaps the greatest achievements of our civilizations, then, indeed, “what are we fighting for?” Today art is not threatened by war as much as by a growing public indifference to it. It seems that nowadays art and literature risk being replaced with entertainment. Artists, critics, movie producers, actors thus face another challenge: making art and culture visible and relevant again to the general public. After all, to paraphrase Churchill—with a difference–what are we living for?”Claudia Moscovici, Holocaust Memory
Today, art is getting lost even in sitcoms that seem to be plastic, goofy, self-absorbed mini looks into fatuous lives. Don’t get me started concerning reality shows! Where is Norman Lear when you need him? Norma Lear’s ability to get white, male, racist Americans to look at themselves in the mirror (Archie Bunker) and possibly get insight was masterful sitcom writing, socially redeeming, and art. It got us to laugh at ourselves in a good way!
I still do see acts of kindness, generosity, openness, understanding and feeling especially in the young people around the ages eighteen to 38 years old. Some of the most generous, kind people I have met lately have been stripped of nearly everything that connotes success: a livable income, dignity in health care, a place at the table of economic dignity and these are people “left behind.” This is not Left Behind as in the fundamentalist, dispensational Left Behind series, but left behind in how our American society defines “success.” I have been working with a larger movement of people who are community organizers (yes in Kansas City community organizing does exist) with a group called Missouri Faith Voices (yes faith groups are strong in the Midwest). Faith Voices has Christians, Jews, Muslims, Unitarian Universalists in it, oh my! Lions and tigers and bears, oh, my! We are making change for the grass roots humans. There’s no slow drip down, trickle down desire, but push up from the roots human blood, sweat, and tears (some laughter too).
I go to Broadway musical series here in Kansas City, and we have a wonderful Kansas City Art Museum that brings in so many shared works of art that I am inspired with hope for a better day!
I am in that generation called the Baby Boomers (tail end), and I am beginning to see some of Boomers get active in global climate change issues to save our planet; and economic dignity campaigns to save our humanity even here in the Midwest, where we are accused of being backward, conservative, fundamentalist. I can tell you that the times they are a changing. People at the grassroots are getting fed up with “the rot at the top,” political corruption of pay to play politicians, billionaire backing of politicians where there is no limit on spending in PACs, Citizens United, dark money from God knows where in a so-called democracy. Are we closer to a plutocracy? Just look at Nebraska known as a conservative, white, male farmer state that votes Republican that has stopped the Keystone Pipeline from going through their state! This is hopeful.
Today the bullies are those who use power, money, and secrecy to bend the systems to their greed, self-interest, acquisitiveness, and so-called “success.” This “success” is destroying our earth, our view of art and beauty, our children’s future on earth, and hurting our neighbors. I think it is time to redefine success in America, because our so-called “success,” which some call the 1% but many people aspire to (even though their chances are infinitesimal) is causing deep poverty among especially children (25% of those in poverty are children), undereducated young people, environmental degradation (leaking pipelines that add gas to drinking water as in movie Gasland where tap water can be lit on fire for heavens sake). What if we had more artists, musicians, novelists than engineers? More architects that engineers? More artists than money lenders? What sort of social environment would we have? I know we need all of the “disciplines: art, sciences, math, language, dance-movement, music, physical activity, social studies, medicine, public health.”
So, what are we living for?